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Wanda's Adventures: The Gold Rush Trail (part one)

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

This is part one of Wanda's Adventures Along the Gold Rush Trail. Lower Mainland to Lillooet

Finally! After last-minute arrangements and re-arrangements, I hit the road this past weekend. The plan is to make my way generally up British Columbia's Gold Rush Trail to Barkerville, an old mining town that was the hub of the Cariboo Gold Rush in the mid 1800s. Unfortunately, last summer's catastrophic forest fires followed by flooding completely destroyed several of the towns along the lower section of the route, so I decided to follow the #99 Hwy that skirts Howe Sound. Previously I have driven this Sea-to-Sky highway as far as Whistler but this time I am continuing north and will join the Trail at Lillooet.

I started off bright but not nearly as early as I planned as I kept remembering something else I wanted to bring and went back and forth from house to van many times. I wasn't terribly concerned about finding a campsite for the night as I had already checked the reservations system and saw that there was plenty of open campsites at the parks I was considering stopping for the first couple of days. The plan was to go to Nairn Falls Provincial Park. It is within the Pemberton regional area, so I knew it would be beautiful. There are plenty of hikes and other things to keep me occupied, and waterfalls are always a bonus. It has some cellular service, so I could hotspot and work on my blog. There were several areas where I could practice flying the drone. As usual, things didn't go exactly according to plan. The night prior to leaving, Garibaldi Lake, the nearest provincial park closed due to a food-habituated bear in the area. Displaced campers heading north filled up Nairn by early afternoon. I needed a new plan.

I didn't want to go much further because I wanted to take my time to explore the towns along the way, so I pulled into Pemberton to grab a coffee and look for alternatives using the iOverlander app. This is the ancestral lands of the Lil'wat First Nations. Traditionally, the people lived within large family groupings. In the winter they lived in pit houses clustered into villages. As the weather improved, the Lil̓wat7úl became nomadic, hunting, fishing and gathering from the coast to the rainforest.

First contact with Europeans came in 1793 when Alexander Mackenzie followed the overland route. Over the next century gold miners, settlers, merchants, and railway builders took over the land, pushing the First Nations into small reserves. Today there are about 2200 members with about 1400 living within the territory. The local Ucwalmícwts language is taught at several local public schools. There is a notable First Nations presence throughout the area with small settlements and businesses, indigenous art and road signage.

I discovered a recreational site called "Owl Creek". Recreational sites are part of the BC Parks system and offer rustic camping. They usually include pit toilets, potable water, garbage disposal, picnic tables, and fire pits. There is no power and most are located far from cellular service. The review I read said there was cell service and it was only $15 per night ($7.50 for 65+), so that's where I headed.

Owl Creek Provincial Recreation Site

Owl Creek includes both forested and open sites. The website says there are 15 sites but walking around I saw at least 30, many that would work for group camping. The campground sits between the Birkenhead River and Owl Creek. Self-registration is required. I didn't see any parks staff while I was there but I passed a truck as I was leaving.

The creek was running very fast and drowned out the sound of the railway passing the area. I was surprised to find an orchard of apple trees and later learned it was a former homestead. There are many blackberry bushes near the water, so this would be prime for bears when the fruit ripens! The park has large bear-proof food caches to store food.

The first night I pulled into a forested site. There was someone tent camping a couple of sites away but otherwise, there was no one else in the immediate area. I set up camp, checked my power and connection, and settled in. In the late afternoon, the weather cleared and my solar panel gathered enough energy to fill my house batteries. My neighbours packed up and left.

I found one trail that I suspect is a snowmobile trail in the winter and followed it for a while. It stayed within the forest and there were no viewpoints along the way but it was still a good walk. (yes, I carried a bear horn and spray but I saw no signs)

It's solstice and the days are long. The sun disappears behind the mountains fairly early but the overhead sky is still bright late into the evening. I made a cozy campfire with the pre-chopped firewood left by a former camper (thanks!), opened a bottle of wine and decided to take it easy for the night.

I pride myself on my campfire skills, making an issue of ensuring every ember burns to ash, leaving no partially burned wood behind. Those Girl Guide skills of yesteryear never disappear completely (although I no longer make my own fire starter sticks, the store-bought ones are MUCH better).

After a good night's sleep, I decided I would move to the grassy area where the creek meets the river. There was a lovely flat area with a stunning mountain view. It was a sunny area and I was craving sun and it wouldn't hurt to get the solar fully loaded. I don't use a lot of power but I do keep the fridge running and I'm always charging some electronic device. \

I enjoyed my day puttering around. I practiced my flute, I wandered around, I did some re-organizing, and made my dinner. There's no reason to eat crap food just because I camp. I prefer to cook outdoors rather than inside, so I use my trusty Coleman stove.

I woke up Tuesday morning to some rain and decided it would be a good idea to move along and hope for better weather on the other side of the coastal mountains. I headed north along Hwy 99, a route that was both stunning and a bit terrifying with its tight hairpin turns.

Cayoosh Creek Campground

My next stop, also found through iOverlander, was Cayoosh Creek Campground. The campsite is owned by the city of Lillooet and provides serviced ($50/night) and tent sites ($30). They also offer day-use passes ($5 for a hot shower). This time I wanted a site where I could set up but leave for day trips. I wanted a site with flush toilets and hot showers. I want to be deep in the Cariboo by the weekend, so this seemed like an excellent choice for a couple of nights.

The campground is a flat, fairly open field with some privacy between sites. The non-serviced sites are grassy with trees and bushes separating the sites. The serviced sites are gravel, with both 30 and 50 amp power and have fences separating the sites. There is a strong wind that blew constantly. There is WIFI but it's very inconsistent. There is good cell coverage so a hotspot is much more consistent.

I chose my (non-serviced) site and set up to work inside while waiting for the sky to clear. The clouds were moving above the mountains and the forecast was for a fabulous weekend. The solar panels were getting some charge as the cloud move across the sky. The office is staffed from 3pm daily, so I left my information and met the lovely former owner (and current manager) when she came by in the afternoon. It's quiet during the day but it got busier in the evening as travellers pulled in. I enjoyed watching eagles and vultures circling overhead. I was absolutely thrilled when this young visitor dropped by.

On my second day, I awoke to a beautiful day. The sun was warm and bright as I enjoyed my morning coffee.

I also explored the BC Hydro Seton Lake Recreation Area, which includes a campsite and 3 day-use/picnic areas. I enjoyed an easy trail walk along the lake and reservoir and tried to spot a long-horn sheep or bears. (no luck).

I did spot an osprey nest with some action. I wasn't able to spot the babies but mom was flying around.

I enjoyed my first few meandering days before joining the Gold Rush Trail. I'm settling into Wanda as I move around and work within her. I'm continuing to move things around and I'm learning how to manage my device charging even on low sun days. I am trying to get into a rhythm of living: hiking, photography, improving video skills and getting usable drone footage, blogging, and exploring. I hope you'll follow along.


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